Priyanka Chopra on “Citadel” - Global Premiere© GettyImages

Priyanka Chopra On ‘Jee Le Zara’, Global Domination & More

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Puja Talwar

She’s lived by her rules, carved out her own path, shattered proverbial glass ceilings and defied the ‘citadels’ of power. With unmatched hard work, ambition and tenacity, Priyanka Chopra Jonas is a trailblazer in the world of entertainment today. Her undeterred spirit and spunk in taking risks are a testament to her success as a global phenomenon. And our beloved desi girl is unarguably one of the most powerful representatives of the South Asian community in Hollywood.

As we ask her if there’s anything she can’t do, she’s armed with her wit: “I can’t cook! It intimidates me so much. But I need to learn!”

Los Angeles Red Carpet And Fan Screening For Prime Video's "Citadel" - Arrivals©GettyImages

Headlining the Russo Brothers’ high-octane dystopian spy thriller Citadel, alongside Scottish heartthrob Richard Madden, Priyanka packs a serious punch (pun intended) as a suave secret agent with stunts and swag to match. We wonder what drew her to Nadia Sinh, her character, and she surprises us with her answer, garnished in humour: her collection of Gucci, Valentino and Tom Ford!

“I don’t know why spies wear such expensive clothes and drive Ferraris and other fancy cars. Great, I’ll take it!” she laughs. “But it’s not me. I don’t like driving. I prefer to be driven or just walk.”

Besides being risk-takers, there aren’t many similarities between Nadia and Priyanka. In fact, she prattles on about how dissimilar they are in reality.

“Nadia doesn’t have a sense of humour; she’s serious and straight-faced, whereas I’m goofy. Nadia doesn’t share her emotions; she’s very isolated, whereas I love being surrounded by family and friends. I love yakking and can talk to anyone. Nadia isn’t a woman of many words. We’re very different people, but I want to look like her all the time. She’s so chic!”

The past few months have been a whirlwind of promotions across continents for this global star. But there was a different joy about being back home this time: it was her daughter Maltie Marie’s first visit to Mumbai.

Priyanka’s eyes light up at the mention of her child, as she shares how both she and her husband Nick Jonas, despite their frenzied schedules, are pretty hands-on as parents and enjoy every moment with her.

“We’re both very dedicated to Maltie. My mother was so excited about her visiting her nani ghar in Mumbai, she made a little nursery in her house; it’s so sweet...”

We observe as her mind visibly drifts to wherever her daughter is, away from our conversation.

“She’s the greatest gift of my life. I know I’ve achieved a lot, but when I look at Maltie and watch her eyes light up when I walk into a room, or watch her get upset when I’m getting ready to leave for work, there’s nothing in the world that can equate the emotions I feel.”

“If I’ve even half an hour in the middle of a hectic day, I rush to her and then get back to work. My parents were like that as they both worked. And that’s how Nick and I are, striking a balance between our family and work... Maltie’s the greatest joy of our lives. She travels everywhere with us and is the best travel companion. She doesn’t even get jetlagged!” she guffaws.

Since their wedding in December 2018, Priyanka and Nick have been head-turners. Supportive of each other’s careers, they are their biggest cheerleaders.

“I have some incredible men in my life who are not insecure about my success. Though I’ve met the kind who are. Today, when I walk the red carpet with my husband, he steps aside and gives me the stage. I feel proud that I’ve let myself be surrounded by people like my father, my husband, my in-laws and friends who don’t have such insecurities,” she says.

We first met Priyanka soon after she was crowned Miss World in 2000. Back then, what struck us about the 18-year-old PeeCee was her self-confidence and clarity of thought and expression.

Miss World 2000 India©GettyImages

Today, 23 years later, she effortlessly continues to wear the tiara of her many achievements. Priyanka is a living, breathing masterclass in the art of redefining and reinventing herself.

“My mentality is never to think about what the future holds or what the big picture is. Rather, I focus on working towards how I can better myself from yesterday. What I could do, be it my performance, my show or as a human being, my choices... Thinking about how I could make those changes is what keeps me going and creates reinvention.”

“I also get bored easily. I don’t like repeating the same thing. Whenever I play a character, you won’t ever see me resting on my laurels or saying, ‘Oh, let me do a few of these things because it works.’ I don’t like safe spaces. They don’t leave room for evolution,” says the actor, matter-of-factly.

The proverbial outsider, she made her way from small-town India into the highly competitive world of Bollywood, where clans and cliques call the shots. With no godfather in the industry or the advantage of having a head start with family in the business, she ploughed through by working twice as hard, showcasing her versatility and talent with critically acclaimed films such as Fashion, Barfi, Saat Khoon Maaf and Mary Kom, along with numerous commercial entertainers.

Despite her superstardom in India, Priyanka took the risk of testing the waters and finding a place for herself in the West — no easy feat for any actor, no matter how established they may seem. Many tried before her, but their efforts translated to blink-and-miss roles in Hollywood projects, red carpet soirées and appearances at international events.

Priyanka’s, however, is a different story. From Quantico in 2015 to Citadel in 2023, her nine years in Hollywood came well-decorated.

“I’m grateful that 23 years later, from when I started, I have a career and am still acting at 40 as a leading lady. I was once told that once you leave your 20s, heroes don’t want to work with you. At 30, you’re classified as too old to work with male actors who could well be in their 40s, 50s or 60s. I’d have never believed then that I’d be starting my career in Hollywood at 40, that too as a leading lady,” she says, flashing a broad, contented smile.

A strong advocate of representation and diversity, Priyanka hosted the South Asian Excellence pre-Oscars party in Los Angeles this year. From knocking on Hollywood’s gilded doors, she laughs, saying we were going to “push the door down” and wouldn’t settle for anything less!

“We (South Asians) are going to have a seat on the table. Many of us, not just me or the four or five who were given that position. I’m grateful to have that foothold in Hollywood, where I have access to incredible people and credibility as an actor and as a talent to be able to take other people with me and connect them with people and platforms.”

“But my dream is to be able to see many leading actors, South Asian or Brown, that come from our community. I want to see women, especially filmmakers from India, be able to work in international cinema. There are not many who seek the opportunity, and here I am, seeking the opportunities for them. Five years, and we’ll have an influx of Indians in Hollywood,” she says, passionate and determined.

In all her experience in varied industries, there’s one factor that’s become non-negotiable for Priyanka: she no longer works with people she doesn’t like or connect with.

“I have to admire and look up to the people I work with. I want to be excited and inspired when I go into work. As I have evolved, this has become important to me,” she says.

But do we see her back on Indian screens?

“Yes, of course. I’d love it, too. I have Jee Le Zara coming up, but Katrina, Alia and I are all in the busiest phases of our lives. So we’re figuring out the right time to do this. It’s probably going to happen early next year,” she shares.

An actor, producer and entrepreneur with her own restaurant and range of beauty products, Priyanka Chopra Jonas is unstoppable. Although she makes light of her singing career (“It lasted just two seconds!”), she emphasises in all seriousness that it was being consistent that paid off for her.

“Young people, especially women, are told that the only way to make it is if someone finds or sees something in them. That’s completely inaccurate! Consistency is key. You have to rely only on yourself, not on others”

“You have to look into the mirror and say ‘I see something in myself, and I can do it.’ Stop looking for validation, stop waiting for someone to discover you, stop waiting for someone to tell you that you’ll be great at the job. Figure out what your strengths are, go for that, and don’t focus on your weaknesses.”

A conversation with Priyanka is always fun, but it also leaves us introspecting, given her inane ability to share deep aphorisms with a hint of her signature humour. As we wrap up our tête-à-tête, we ask her what hashtag would best describe her. “#IAmStillUnfinished,” she says, leaving us wondering where we all stand in our own lives...